Alone but upbeat

Print edition : September 26, 1998

Alienated from her allies, Jayalalitha fires up an AIADMK rally in Tiruchi with more rhetoric and threats.

THE All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chose to celebrate C.N. Annadurai's 90th birth anniversary all by itself in Tiruchi, while the rest of its allies, including the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), celebrated it together in Chennai. This signalled a drift, perhaps even the isolation, of the party from its coalition partners.

Despite an estimated turnout of nearly a lakh of people, the AIADMK event in Tiruchi, 320 km from Chennai, proved to be a non-event in political terms because party general secretary Jayalalitha made no significant announcement regarding the AIADMK's ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party or its other State-level allies. However, she warned her allies against ignoring the AIADMK, which she described as the ladder they used to climb to power at the Centre. "Those who kick the ladder after climbing on it will break their legs," she said.

The mood at the AIADMK meeting, the first such event after the Lok Sabha elections, was upbeat. There was the usual rhetoric about the return of "MGR rule" and a call to party workers to immerse themselves in public service. Making an attempt to boost the cadre's morale, at a time when she herself was isolated politically, Jayalalitha said: "The future belongs to us. Victory is ours."

Jayalalitha's carefully-worded 90-minute speech centred on three themes: her rationale for the repeated threats of "reviewing support" to the BJP-led Government, a warning to her allies at the Centre and in the State against treating the AIADMK unfairly, and the "anarchic DMK rule" in Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalitha garlands Annadurai's statue in Tiruchi.-K. GANESAN

Jayalalitha indicated to the BJP and her State-level allies that she was willing to mend fences with them provided they played fair by the AIADMK. She said that while a dish could be prepared using many vegetables (referring to the alliance partners), no single vegetable was important. The AIADMK, she said, was as important as the vessel, without which the dish could not get be cooked. Nor could it be treated like curry leaves, which are added to give flavour and then discarded.

Expressing her unhappiness over the Centre's refusal to dismiss the DMK Government, Jayalalitha made a veiled reference to Home Minister L.K. Advani's speech in Tiruchi after the February 1998 Coimbatore blasts, in which he reportedly promised action against the DMK. She said that he had not kept his word. (Advani has denied that he made any such promise as suggested by Jayalalitha. "Our Government will always do what is constitutionally correct and politically legitimate, irrespective of personal attacks on BJP leaders," he said.

Missing no opportunity to target the DMK Government, Jayalalitha listed her routine complaints against it. One of them was tardy implementation of the interim award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (citing differences in the data put out by the State Government and the Public Works Department, she said that Karnataka had not released all the water that was due to Tamil Nadu). Another was the delay in bringing to book the perpetrators of the Coimbatore blasts (she said that if Chief Minister Karunanidhi handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation she would withdraw her petition before the Madras High Court). She also said that Karunanidhi was yet to be cleared of the charges made by the Justice M.C. Jain Report on the conspiracy aspect of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination and that his name appeared in 13 places in the Action Taken Report. Claiming that he was guilty of forgery, perjury and abetment, she said that a first information report should be filed against him.

Defending her salvos against the BJP-led Government, Jayalalitha said it was in the interest of the people of Tamil Nadu that she continually raised issues such as the Jain Commission Report, the Cauvery waters interim award and the Coimbatore blasts.

At the public meeting in Tiruchi.-K. GANESAN

In an attempt to grab the BJP's attention, Jayalalitha alleged that Karunanidhi's indifferent attitude towards the maintenance of temples had led to the closure of many temples in the State. She said that he had discontinued many of the schemes she had launched during AIADMK rule for the renovation of temples and for the welfare of priests. There were loud cheers as Jayalalitha promised to "lodge Karunanidhi in the same jail cell" in which she was detained on corruption charges for 28 days in December 1996.

A section of the crowd became restive when Jayalalitha went into the nitty-gritty of the Cauvery issue and the Jain Commission Report. At the end of her speech, people in the audience broke the barricades and rushed towards the dais and had to be controlled by the police and party workers.

The ritual garlanding of the statue of Annadurai on the morning of September 15 was the only reminder, amid all the bustle, of the DMK founder's birth anniversary. At the meeting, Jayalalitha made only a marginal reference to Anna, and that too to score a point over Karunanidhi. She said that when she was in power a contribution of Rs.75 lakhs had been made to help Anna's family and to nationalise his literary works. At that time, she said, Karunanidhi demanded that Rs.2 crores be set aside for Anna's family. In the last two years when Karunanidhi was in power, no contributions were made to the family, she said.

The issue of the birth anniversary celebrations itself has been hanging fire ever since the BJP-led coalition Government was formed at the Centre. MDMK leader Vaiko was the first to announce his plans for a rally in Chennai. He obtained Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's assent for participation. A piqued Jayalalitha then announced "a joint victory rally" at Dindigul, to which leaders of all constituents of the ruling coalition were invited. But, as it turned out, the Dindigul rally was not held as her relationship with the BJP soured. Jayalalitha abruptly called it off, citing security reasons and adverse weather conditions for the decision.

Notwithstanding her public posturing, Jayalalitha left for Chennai to meet George Fernandes immediately after the Tiruchi event. This was seen as a sign of her eagerness to retain her links with the BJP. It was apparently "an exercise in diplomacy" intended to put AIADMK-BJP relations on an even keel. Jayalalitha, according to reports, assured her support to the BJP-led Government and George Fernandes, on his part, assured Jayalalitha that the BJP was not trying to divide the AIADMK front.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor